Belatedly, Japan Admits Use of Germ Warfare ; Tuesday, Judges Confirmed Biological Attacks on China in WWII but Denied Compensation

Article excerpt

A Tokyo court acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that Japan had used germs as weapons before and during World War II, slaughtering thousands of Chinese civilians.

But, to the fury of many of the victims and their families, the court rejected claims for compensation on the grounds that all reparations issues have been settled by international peace treaties.

The public gallery was packed with people holding photographs of the dead as Koji Iwata, the presiding judge of the Tokyo District Court, said the Imperial Army had violated the Geneva and The Hague conventions by spreading plague, typhoid, and other diseases in Quzhou, Ningbo, and Changde between 1940 and 1942.

"The evidence shows that Japanese troops, including Unit 731 and others, used bacteriological weapons on the orders of the Imperial Army's headquarters, and that many local residents died," he said.

His terse judgment ended a five-year case, filed by 180 plaintiffs, mostly Chinese, who were seeking both an apology and $83,500 each in damages for the suffering caused by Unit 731.

Although the claims for an apology and compensation were rejected, the legal confirmation of the germ-warfare program was hailed as a breakthrough by the Chinese victims' lawyers.

"The court's recognition of the facts will make it impossible for bureaucrats and politicians to deny what happened ever again," said Kohken Tsuchiya, the head of the plaintiffs' legal team.

For decades after the war, Japanese school textbooks omitted any reference to Unit 731. Until a decade ago, the Japanese government refused even to acknowledge its existence. Even now, it refuses to comment on the unit's activities.

In their ruling, the three judges of the Tokyo District Court said they had little doubt that numerous outbreaks of deadly pathogens in Manchuria were caused by Unit 731's facility at Harbin, set up in 1938 by Gen. …